Customer Demand

I know that Tim Bray has recently suggested that I am in la la land and spewing various forms of manure on my blog and in the press. I generally assume that my wife is the only one that would make such a suggestion – but hey I’ve been known to be wrong - which is why I welcome a difference in opinion (especially from someone as bright as Tim). Call it old fashioned though, I always focus on what customers want first. So, the focus of this response to Tim is one of customer demand – and what effect that might have on decision making around the format debates of late.


I addressed the idea of my opinion of the OpenDocument Alliance in my last posting. So I will leave that point alone in this one. If you are curious – check it out here.


One of the issues I have raised that has drawn the ire of my critics has been about customer demand for ODF vs. PDF. As you may know, we are including support of PDF in our next version of Office. In other words, you can save as PDF much as you can for other de facto and formalized standards (WordPerfect, RTF, TXT, HTML). This came about because we had very strong feedback from customers that this was important. The feedback was not one or two customers – but rather tens of thousands.


Today, the demand is just not there for ODF. As always, the door is open to discussion with our customers. What comes of those discussions falls well outside the scope of a simple blog entry by me.


To try to put some kind of weight behind my statement about the demand, the following data comes from the March timeframe, and falls into the world of blog data (meaning it would be great to see some neutral party do this type of research so that it could be verified and substantiated). I received this from a friend of mine who did some Google research. He found that of the non HTM or HTML files on the internet, ~70% are .pdf, Office formats represent ~17%, .txt ~7%, StarOffice (including swx, sxi, sxc) about .03%, and OpenOffice not registering with only ~1000 documents surfacing (including .odt, .ods, .odp).  This data comes from a total set of ~446 million documents. So – I’m not completely in dream land Tim, just not in alignment with your company’s goals on ODF and the sale of your products and services. 


We have heard the demand (as long as 5 years ago) for open formats. Clearly, the intensity of the discussions around this topic demonstrate the depth of feeling by customers on it. So – I hope the Office team continues to listen to customers, no matter what the hyperbole in the blogosphere may be. 


****Updated 5/15/2006****

Tim and I traded email today (thx Tim). He pointed out that I answerd the customer demand question, but not the point that was made in the press about ODF not meeting MS customers' needs. Given that I am not the tech lead on this - I will not try to dig too deep. In talking with our tech leads (like Brian Jones) the issues come down to four things. 1) compatibility with existing documents and Office products, 2) compatibility with Office 2007 which is still in beta but is likely to be used by many of our customers, 3) performance tuning of the XML (my understanding is that the two formats take a different approach to this), 4) how custom schemas are handled. I'm sure more will be written on this topic over time.